John Atack was one of the loyal little band of teasmaniacs who were so supportive and involved in the early years of this website. I was profoundly sorry to hear that he had died in 2015. He would have been delighted to see the website on track.
John is pictured here undertaking a delicate Goblin 860 repair with G clamps, 6 inch spanner, 3lb lump hammer and chisel. When he sent me this photo, he stressed that the fireman’s axe in the foreground was guaranteed insulated for 20,000 volts. Part of John’s collection is illustrated below and you can see some individual examples throughout this site. Here John describes the teasmade in his own words:
As far as functionality is concerned one thing that attracts me to these beasts is their British oddity. Firstly they mix mains electricity and hot water in what could be a risky manner and secondly their alarm function, whilst heroic (irritating buzz and blinding light) is wasted since you have probably been awakened by the asthmatic boiling function in any case. By the way all seem to possess the same characteristic being rated on average at 650 watts and boiling two pints of water in 15 minutes from 15 degrees C ambient. That said they all perform very well and make decent cuppas despite starting with a cold pot and using water at boiling point which goes against the grain for the professional tea masher.
I found it hard to imagine that this energetic technophile was gone, but as his family agree, he couldn’t have asked for a better way to go: driving a sports car, cresting a Pennine hill, happy and relaxed… and as his heart stopped, he took his foot from the pedal and generously chose not to kill anyone else in the process. The last thing he would have seen was the view down into a Yorkshire valley, the view back home. John’s son writes:
I’m sure it’s a question we all ask. After we’re gone, what will we leave behind? What will remain of us, and whatever it might be, how long will it last before that too, fades? I’m not talking about possessions, although if you’d like to know, my Dad has left us – amongst other things – approximately 60 working teasmades and a drawer packed full of wristwatches he collected purely on the basis that they each cost less than a tenner. No, I’m talking about the less tangible things you leave behind. The attitudes you strike in daily life that leave a kind of echo, once your time is over.
In some ways it’s difficult to ask this of my Dad because to say the least, John Atack was a tricky man to pin down. He was a funny and moody father. He was a truly devoted and completely cantankerous husband. He was gregarious but very private, good with conversation but suspicious of too much analysis. Put bluntly he was a grumpy old bastard, who nevertheless loved a laugh, while at the same time finding much to be frustrated with in the world – especially when it wasn’t done with dignity and respect. To be honest the evidence suggests he might well have been a grumpy old bastard from around the age of three.
But I can tell you that growing up with him on your side was never, ever boring. He travelled the world, and he took his family with him. He nurtured a new obsession every two to three years, be it sailing, cine cameras or still photography, meccano, or the aforementioned teasmades, ham radio or hamming it up on stage, alongside the ever-present cars, steam trains, and aeronautics. And here’s the first thing I’d say he instilled, particularly in my brother and me – a belief in technology and its ability to imagine something new, something adaptable and alive. Although in the case of the teasmades, he loved them because they were an incredibly popular invention whose sole purpose seemed to be to create an incredibly bad cup of tea.
Perhaps the final word should go to John himself. It comes in the form of a letter, and perhaps a challenge, to fellow teasmade enthusiasts:
Dear Fellow Sufferers,
A short while ago I thought I would like to amplify my anorak interests that include steam machinery, U boats and Land Rovers that use proper springs. Something electro-mechanical appealed but there was a team already devoted to reproducing the Bletchley Park Colossus computer so I decided that teasmades offered a viable alternative. I never dreamt that there would be such an enthusiastic cult following for these extraordinary devices. All things considered they seem to embrace the very best in British idiosyncrasy. It is difficult to imagine a more useless device to provide the tea drinking public with the perfect end product. No pot warming. Direct infusion by boiling water under mild pressure. Both go against the purist grain for tea making. Then there is the alarm function…totally redundant given the wheezes, whistles and splutters that precede the alarm call. Finally is the dangerous association of high voltage electricity and steam which is happily ignored in most designs. Wonderful!!! I look forward to an event at, for example, the Albert Hall, that attracts the aficionados, has prizes for the most coordinated collective brew or the fastest boil by a D25A etc etc. Meantime I trust that you have successful brews.
With best wishes, John Teatotal Atack.